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Dead of Winter from Plaid Hat Games – Board Game Preview

Dead of Winter - GamesQuest

It’s been a while since I finished off my two-part blog about Kickstarter and the Zombie hordes, but I continue to watch out for new and quality Zombie titles heading our way. With the recent Zombicide Season 3 Kickstarter campaign raising $2,849,064 you can clearly see that the gaming public still have a real taste for Zombies.

However, today I’m not going to be talking about Kickstarter. I want to talk about another upcoming zombie title that’s getting loads of attention from gamers across the globe. The game in question is Dead of Winter, designed by Jon Gillmour and Isaac Vega, and published by Plaid Hat Games (PHG).

Plaid Hat Games Dead of Winter - GamesQuest

Where Do I Know that Name???

If you’ve never heard of PHG then now’s the time to find out more, because these guys have got some amazing titles heading your way over the next year or so! Based in the US, this vibrant publishing company is owned and run by chief game designer – Colby Dauch. In a nutshell, PHG are all about fun and community, a point they put across quite nicely on their site!

“…At Plaid Hat Games we not only want to make fun and engaging games, we want to make some good friends while doing it. Our goal as a game company is to make games you love to play, and to support the communities that form around our games…”

Although the main focus of this post is to talk about Dead of Winter you might also want to check out some of the following Plaid Hat titles:

Wait a Second… Don’t You Playtest for Plaid Hat Games???

Mice and Mystics Downwood Tales - GamesQuest

At this point, and for total transparency, I should probably point out that I have a personal connection with Plaid Hat Games. Specifically I was a play tester for Mice and Mystics. In fact, I recently completed a spell of play-testing for the latest expansion “The Downwood Tales” which I thoroughly enjoyed!.

I‘m not going to say much more about it at this point, but one thing I’ll tell you for free; It’s a fantastic addition to the game! If you’re already a fan of Mice and Mystics then you’re going to absolutely love this!

I’ll be writing more about Downwood Tales as the release date draws near, so watch out for a preview, including some inside play-tester stories, coming soon!

On to the Main Event… Dead of Winter!!!

I’ve had Dead of Winter on pre-order for what feels like an age now. I’m quite excited by the prospect of the game coming out very soon and I hope that after reading this preview, you’ll be as inspired as I am by this upcoming gaming hotness.

Zombies-Dead-of-Winter-Board-Game-GamesQuest

I’m going to use the rest of this post to outline the top five reasons why I placed my pre-order virtually as soon as it was announced! I thought that, maybe, in explaining my reasoning, you might get a glimpse of the potential for fun that Dead of Winter provides.

Before I start with the list, let’s take a quick look at how Plaid Hat Games actually describes Dead of Winter:

“…It puts 2-5 players together in a small, weakened colony of survivors in a world where most of humanity are either dead or diseased, flesh-craving, monsters. Each player leads a faction of survivors with dozens of different characters in the game…”

If that brief description has tickled your fancy, then read on to find out what Dead of Winter has in store for those brave enough to play!

Reason 1: “Dead of Winter forces you to make genuinely difficult decisions.”

Dead of Winter has a series of mechanisms that specifically aim to make the life of the survivors difficult, nay, near impossible!

First up you have the Crossroads cards! At the beginning of each player’s turn, the player to their right draws a crossroads card. The card is kept secret, and is only revealed it, if its trigger condition happens during the current players turn.

Board Game Crossroads and Crisis Card Dead of Winter GamesQuest

When a crossroad card triggers, all of its text is read aloud by the player who drew it. These cards outline choices or decisions that need to be made, and the current player must select one of the available options to follow. After they select the option, it immediately takes effect! However, if a player is unable to meet the conditions of an option on a crossroads card, they must choose the other option, so there’s no easy way out of these things!

Following on from the crossroads cards on the nastiness scale, you have the Crisis Cards. Some of you will note that these cards are very similar to the mechanic used to deal with crises in Fantasy Flight Games’ smash hit Battlestar Galactica title.

During their turn a player may add cards, face down, to the currently revealed crisis card. area of the crisis card, it helps to prevent the crisis. Every card added that does not match a symbol counts towards triggering the crisis.

When it comes to dealing with a crisis, you shuffle the cards that were added to the crisis, reveal them one at a time and add up the symbols. Each card that has a symbol matching a symbol in the prevent section of the crisis is worth 1 point. Each card that doesn’t subtracts 1 point. After you sum all of the points, if the combined total is lower than the number of players, the crisis triggers. However, if the total is greater than or equal to the number of players, the crisis is prevented.

Suffice to say, the crisis cards look to make Dead of Winter extremely challenging. Players want to prevent the crisis at all cost, but if there’s a traitor in their midst they might struggle to pull it off!

Reason 2: “Dead of Winter has secret objectives for each player!”

When I first heard about the secret objectives in Dead of Winter, I instantly drew a mental comparison with the roles dished out during a game of Battlestar Gallactica. However, after reading the Dead of Winter site thoroughly, I think that Plaid Hat Games is providing a bit more depth to the secret objectives/roles:

“This secret objective could relate to a psychological tick that’s fairly harmless to most others in the colony, a dangerous obsession that could put the main objective at risk, a desire for sabotage of the main mission, or worst of all: vengeance against the colony!”

Board Game Dead of Winter Secret Objective - GamesQuest

It sounds as though there are a whole host of roles in Dead of Winter that are going to change and influence each game through a series of strange and dramatic player interactions.

If you take a second to flick through the rulebook, it explains that most players are driven toward the success of the colony, but have other compulsions that must be followed. Whereas, other players may betray you or even react in certain ways if you exile their group of survivors!

Not knowing who you’re really dealing with and what motivates your fellow gamer, Dead of Winter will present you with a real sense of tension rarely found around a gaming table.

Reason 3: “Survivors that are infected, and die, spread the infection!”

Exposure-Dice-Dead-of-Winter-GamesQuest

As the old saying goes “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases!” and in the case of Dead of Winter it has never been more true. One of the things that some Zombie games completely ignore is the nature of a Zombie infection and how quickly it can spread between survivors in a close knit community. Dead of Winter on the other hand deals with this head-on, offering players yet another difficult decision. Do you kill the infected survivor, and eradicate the infection? OR roll the exposure dice to see whether the infection stops or causes the survivor to die? If they do die though, the infection spreads again! It sounds lethal, because it is lethal!

Reason 4: “Dead of Winter lets you exile other players from your colony.”

During your turn you can choose another player and initiate a vote to exile them. All players cast their vote at the same time, to decide whether the chosen player is exiled.

If the vote passes and you exile a player, that player must immediately draw an exiled secret objective card and then move all of their survivors to non-colony locations.

When you exile a player, a new set of rules come into play:

  • Exiles cannot add cards to a crisis.

  • Exiles do not add helpless survivor tokens to the colony when directed to.

  • Exiles add their new survivors to a non-colony locations rather than at the colony.

  • Exiles cannot spend food tokens to increase their action die results.

  • Exiles cannot vote.

  • Exiles whose survivors die, do not cause the colony to lose morale.

  • Exiles can play cards, but those cards are then removed from the game.

Board Game Dead of Winter Exiles GamesQuest

I can tell, just by reading the rules, there’s going to be accusations flying left, right and centre during a game of Dead of Winter. You might even need to house-rule that all friend-ships are left at the door. However, as fun as exiling people might be, you do have to be really careful when you do it, because there’s a very harsh penalty if you start exiling people without good reason. Basically, if there are two exiled players, but neither had a secret objective that would make them betray the colony, the overall morale level drops to zero. If you’ve watched the Walking Dead then just think of this as though you’d just thrown Rick and Daryl out of the colony. Then ten minutes later you realise
they’re the only people who were actually worth keeping
. You’d feel pretty damn low too!

Reason 5: “Dead of Winter is a game of firsts!”

What do I mean by a game of firsts?

  • Dead of Winter is the first Zombie game that Plaid Hat Games have ever produced.

  • Dead of Winter is the first in the Crossroads series of games coming out of Plaid Hat Games.

  • Dead of Winter is the first game that Isaac Vega has released since he started working full time for Plaid Hat Games.

These things might not be of interest to some people out there, but for me they make Dead of Winter all the more appealing! I very much want to see Plaid Hats approach to Zombies, how the Crossroads mechanism works to increase player suspense and immersion, and finally what kind of job Jon Gillmour and Isaac Vega have done with the design!

Like What You Read??? Desperate for More???

So that’s my top five reasons for pre-ordering Dead of Winter. I’ll be doing a full review of the game once it arrives on my doorstep – so stay tuned for that. But, if you can’t wait for the review and you’re sat there thinking that Dead of Winter sounds just up your street, then don’t waste any time! There’s copies available for pre-order on the store right now but we expect these will sell out incredibly quickly, so get your order in while you still can!

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Tom Randell

Driven Instructional Designer by day, board game fanatic by night! Tom has a long background in eLearning design and is a strong believer that story and narrative are crucial to creating excellent learning and gaming experiences. A passionate blogger, game reviewer and play tester, he enjoys spending his time playing games of all genres.

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